The day was August 4, 2000. I was officially on my way to begin my new life in Europe. As I stood in the long security line of San Francisco Airport with my big toe sticking out of my sock, I spotted a little boy, probably about five or six years old, waiting with his parents and his brother to go through the metal detector. The guard waved the boy to come through, and his mom gave him a nudge. When the boy walked through the detector, the light turned red and the panel started beeping. The guard asked the child to put out his arms and swept his black sensor around the boy’s body. He was beaming. For him, that black stick was nothing less than a magic wand.
Next, the guard waved the boy’s brother through. Excited, the second child walked through the metal tunnel, but he didn’t set off the alarm. With quivering lips, he turned back around and looked at his mother. Quickly sizing up the situation, the wise guard tapped the second boy on his shoulder and asked him to put his arms out. Then the man swept his magic black sensor wand all around him. The boy looked over at his mother. His face was one big smile.
As I looked at those two children, I thought back to my very first airplane flight. I was just about their age. My family was flying on Pan Am from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We were going to Disneyland. The year was 1968. We walked straight from check in to the gate. No security. My brothers, sister, and I were dressed up. I wore new black Oxfords. My hair was slick with Dippety Doo. After we were buckled up, the stewardess walked over to my family. Her polyester mini skirt matched our bright orange seats. Smiling, she handed my brothers and me metal wings. In the center of our wings were the words Junior Clipper Pilot. My sister’s wings said Junior Stewardess. Growing up, I saved my wings in a Hush Puppie shoebox under my bed. I heard that some airlines stopped giving kiddie wings out to children, something about the sharp pins and terrorism. Nonsense.
When I boarded the plane bound for Budapest, I sat beside a little girl about seven years old. I didn’t mind. I usually end up sitting by kids on airplanes. I’m convinced there’s some magnetic pull between children and grade school teachers. They find each other. During the flight, the girl fell asleep on my shoulder. Embarrassed, her mother apologized. “No problem,” I whispered with a smile. “I’m a teacher. This is just like a bus ride home from a field trip.” About twenty minutes later, the flight started to get pretty bumpy, and the girl woke up. She was afraid. The turbulence got worse, and the girl began to whimper.
I know what to do.
I reached down under my seat, grabbed my computer bag, and unzipped the side pocket. Then I turned to the girl and held out a small object. It was time to pass it on. “Here,” I said. “Take these.” The girl sniffed twice. “They’re pilot wings,” I said, “just like our pilot is wearing.” She sniffed, but just once this time. “See here,” I said, pointing to the words on the wings. “It says Junior Clipper Pilot.” The girl turned to her mother who nodded. I handed the wings to her, and she put them on her daughter. As the girl smiled down at her new wings, her mother looked over her child’s head and mouthed, “Thank you.”